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School District Secessionists Gearing Up Petition Drives : Education: Advocates in Carson and Lomita contend that leaving L.A. Unified would give residents more control over curriculum, spending and other matters.

August 20, 1993|RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carson activists seeking an independent school district for the city say they will soon begin circulating a petition asking county education officials to study their request, the first step in the lengthy process to secede from the Los Angeles school system.

A secession group in Lomita, meanwhile, says it is busily gathering signatures on a petition it plans to submit next month to county education officials in the city's second bid to break away from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In both cities, secession advocates contend that independent districts would give residents more control over curriculum, spending and other matters. They say the huge Los Angeles school system, with its chronic financial problems, is simply too big and bureaucratic to heed the concerns of parents in far-flung areas.

"We feel we have the right to determine what kind of education system we have," said Carolyn Harris, a leader of the Carson Unified Formation Committee, a fledgling secession group.

The Carson group plans to meet next week with Warren Furutani, the Los Angeles Unified School District trustee who represents the South Bay. Harris described the planned meeting with Furutani as a "courtesy call."

Secessionists do not expect Furutani to support their drive, but feel obligated to formally apprise him of it since his office provided data and other technical help for a city study on the feasibility of a breakup.

Furutani could not be reached for comment, but when asked recently about the breakaway movement in Lomita he said he had not made up his mind whether he would support it. He and Los Angeles school administrators have questioned whether smaller districts could match the quality and diversity of programs offered by the city school system, which, with 640,000 students, is the second-largest school district in the country.

With or without his support, Harris said her group plans to begin a petition drive early next month seeking residents' support for a review of the plan by the county Committee on School District Organization.

The organization committee will only consider Carson's case if one-quarter of the city's 40,681 registered voters sign a petition calling for secession. The committee would then prepare a study and make a recommendation to the state Board of Education, which could reject the idea or order a binding referendum in Carson and adjacent areas on whether an independent district should be formed.

In a non-binding advisory measure on the ballot last June, 64% of the voters supported a city secession effort. Breakup advocates have said it could take at least five years before a Carson district is approved, but they maintain they will pursue their cause to the end.

"We are in it for the long fight," Harris said.

In Lomita, which unsuccessfully tried to break away from the Los Angeles school system in 1987, secession advocates say they plan to submit their petition to the county reorganization committee in September. The Committee to Unify Lomita Schools plans to collect 3,000 signatures--slightly more than 25% of the city's registered voters--on a petition that began circulating in June.

The Lomita secession group this week released the results from questionnaires mailed to residents. Only 180 questionnaires were returned, but in the vast majority of them, residents favored breaking away from the Los Angeles system or seeking unification with the Torrance or Palos Verdes school districts. Lomita secession advocates have said they would first seek their own district before looking into joining another district.

"Analysis of these results (indicates) to the Committee to Unify Lomita's Schools that there is no question in the minds of Lomita residents that LAUSD is a failure at education," said Robert Hargrave, the Lomita councilman who heads the secession group.

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